The students at Westmount Charter School in Calgary are movers and shakers. Literally. The school, whose mandate is to provide “qualitatively differential educational programming” for gifted learners, is the very picture of a progressive learning environment.
Shared educational spaces within the school are designed to adapt to the various learning styles of students. The Learning Commons, for example, is home to space-age looking, comfortable, high-backed chairs that can be grouped in a variety of configurations to facilitate group work, or separated and moved to provide a student who may need it, much welcome solitude.
Other areas of the Commons have tall tables and stools with footrests that are great for collaborative work among students or independent study.
So, when Fitneff approached the school about trialling Stand2Learn desks designed for students in the classroom, Jr. High teacher, Mark Knoll, jumped at the opportunity.
Knoll has a background as a professional athlete and is a two-time Olympian; so he doesn’t just teach kids about being healthy and active, his daily life is an example of it. Knoll believes that regular movement throughout the day provides infinitely more benefits than just being physically fit.
“I really appreciate the freedom of movement and self-regulation that I can find in a day, (through being active)” he says. “I try to provide students with positive modelling, and movement is one of the avenues that I find works in the classroom.”
As a teacher, he knows that many students struggle with the traditional expectation that learning is sedentary and best done while sitting at a desk, especially in the older grades.
To him, the standing desks seem like the perfect way to give students the option to experience the best of both worlds. The opportunity to stand up, change posture, engage different muscles and move around the room a bit can be very beneficial.
“I find stand-up desks are helpful in stimulating muscles that would otherwise be dormant in a chair,” he says.
Knoll knows that if moving and being active helps him to self-regulate, his students will benefit from the same philosophy. “I feel that the frequent change of positions helps the students to better regulate themselves, which allows for a sharper focus on classroom learning," he observes.
Knoll’s classroom is a testament to this philosophy, with a range of varied seating (and standing) options scattered around the room.
The Stand2Learn desk features prominently toward the back of the bright and airy classroom. In addition to regular desks and chairs, Knoll also has a larger standing table that he uses for conversing with individual or groups of students, some core balls to use for sitting at desks, and a set of tree stumps that are lower profile and great for students to arrange in different configurations, depending on what they need. “The dynamic nature of seating arrangement is actually very important to learning,” Knoll says.
Once the lesson instructions have been delivered, students are free to choose a workspace that works for them and Knoll will tell you that the standing desk is a hot commodity in the classroom.
“Five minutes before class is set to start, the line up is already forming,” he says. “No, these eager students are not in line to get the desk closest to their favourite teacher,” he laughs. “They all want the Stand2Learn Standing Desk.
He also likes that with the standing desk, the students seem more at ease to move around, without disrupting the class.
Through his own personal experience and his experiences as a teacher, Knoll knows that integrating movement into daily life positively enhances learning. “When students’ minds and bodies are activated, they are ready to learn,” he says.
And he’s right. In fact, there is ample new research which shows that kids who are physically active in general are not only healthier, but are also likely to perform better academically.
An article by Donna Wilson of BrainSMART agrees, “Incorporating exercise and movement throughout the school day makes students less fidgety and more focused on learning. Improving on-task behaviour and reducing classroom management challenges.”
We asked Mr. Knoll to provide an overview of his and his students’ experience with the Stand2Learn desks.
A: The desks were primarily in two classes. The Grade 7/9 classroom had students lining up at the door first thing in the morning to use it. A grade five class was home to one of the desks for a time and my colleague in that class was positive about it as well. “It was a hub for conducting collaborative communities: where students can work independently, in partners, or in small groups,” says Heather Lai.
A: Use of the desks was given freely, no restrictions. However, upon reading the blog posting on Fitneff’s site about the Grade 6 class that trialled the desks, I decided to implement a bit of structure. So, while the lesson was being delivered, students were expected to remain in one place and focused. Afterwards, the freedom to move around was given.
It also seemed important to me to make sure each student that wanted to got a chance to use the desk, not just the ones quickest to the door in the morning.
A: For some students, standing allowed them to access clear sight lines to the teacher and the board. It put them above the heads of the sitting students and provided a different perspective.
The desk also allowed students to stand around the desk, facilitating conversation and eye-to-eye open communication. When I’m talking to kids, it also helps to break down barriers and literally level the playing field because I’m facing the kids at their level, not talking down to them at their desks or interrogating them in front of mine.
A: The learning culture at the school in general is designed to have students learn in ways that are meaningful to them: engaging in movement and collaborative processes, and providing classrooms and learning spaces that can transform to accommodate need.
The different perspective of the standing desk did open up new opportunities for those kids that needed that. It can be a powerful tool for some students.
In all, the response to the option of standing desks within the classroom was generally well-received by students and teacher alike. It's a small investment that could pay great dividends in the long run for the right student.
But, Stand2Learn desks are also a great fit for a homework zone at home. If your student spends all day in a desk at school, getting them up on their feet after school might be just what you need to keep them focused through what can be some of the longest hours of the day.
Fitneff is proud to offer solutions to make it easier to integrate movement into every day life, at school, at work, at home and beyond. Check out our great selection of product options at Fitneff.ca.
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Today, on International Women’s Day, I have chosen to profile Laurel Walzak, the female co-founder of Fitneff Inc. Laurel has been successful in so many areas of her career - first as a trailblazer in the sports business industry, then as an entrepreneur and most recently as an Assistant Professor of Sports Media at Ryerson University.
Laurel also spends a great deal of her time and energy outside the office in efforts to advance the careers of young women who are making their start. I asked Laurel some important questions about the role of women in business, and the role that she plays in advocating for other women in her life.